What’s the difference between a fingerstyle guitar player and your favorite band on the radio?

With fingerstyle guitar, “really you’re becoming a one-man band,” says local musician Chuck Wills.

A good fingerstyle player will use four or sometimes all five fingers to play the instrument, with the thumb playing the rhythm and the other four playing the melody.

Your favorite guitar or banjo player may use a pick, but with fingerstyle guitar, picks are not allowed unless you are wearing one on your thumb, Wills said.

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In short, fingerstyle is the Olympics of guitar playing, Wills said.

“The technique is not easy. Getting ready for a competition, musicians might practice eight hours a day,” he said.

That talent will be on display to other guitarists and the general public when Brown County hosts the Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition for the fifth year in a row.

“Very quickly this event, among fingerstyle people, has become the event to go to,” Wills said.

The weekend will begin with a party at the Brown County Inn on Friday, July 29 at 7 p.m. There will be a cash bar and performances by Cari Ray and the Loners and 12 international artists, including previous competition winners.

Before the BCI party, Kade Puckett will perform at the Pine Room at 6 p.m.

The competition will take place at the Brown County Playhouse featuring 40 fingerstyle guitarists from all over the United States and Europe. They’ll start playing at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 30. The audience should expect to be there for the majority of the afternoon, Wills said.

Each will get five minutes to perform. They will be judged on their ability to play and how they arrange the songs they play.

The top five players will have a “playoff” before the winner is announced. The winner will receive a $5,500 handcrafted Thomas Roeger guitar.

Wills and local musician Kara Barnard are co-creators and co-producers of the Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition. The idea spurred from trips Barnard took to Kansas to see the Walnut Valley Festival, which is the international fingerstyle competition that includes guitars, fiddles, banjos and dulcimers.

“So Kara thought, ‘You know Brown County has such a rich heritage of acoustic music and all of those traditional instruments that it would be fun to have a festival like that here, but focus just on fingerstyle guitar,” Wills said.

Competition weekend will conclude with a concert at the Playhouse featuring the competition’s top three winners Saturday night. Father-son duo Tim and Miles Thompson also will perform along with Puckett and Michael Kelsey.

This year’s event also will feature a People’s Choice award. That winner will receive a telecaster electric guitar custom-built for the competition. Audience members will have a chance to cast their vote for the winner.

If you go

What: Fifth annual Indiana State Fingerstyle Guitar Competition

Where: Brown County Playhouse, Brown County Inn and Pine Room Tavern


Friday, July 29 at 6 p.m. Kade Puckett will perform at the Pine Room Tavern

Friday, July 29 from 7 to 11 p.m. Cari Ray and the Loners and 12 guitarists, including previous competition winners, will perform at the Brown County Inn

Saturday, July 30 at 11 a.m. the competition will begin at the Brown County Playhouse with doors opening at 9 a.m.

Saturday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. a concert will feature the top three players and Tim and Miles Thompson, Kade Puckett and Michael Kelsey at the Brown County Playhouse

Cost: $24 all day pass, $34 VIP all day pass, $19 7:30 p.m. concert only

Tickets: indianastringfest.com and browncountyplayhouse.org, also available during regular Playhouse box office hours Thursdays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

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